BUSHELL ON THE BOX
*This is an edited version of my TV column. The real thing, plus contests, goofs, lookalike pictures and more, can be found each Sunday only in the Daily Star Sunday.
AUG 28. WHAT IS the most effective way for the polices to behave in public? Patrol our streets in pairs, cruise around in squad cars or dance the macarena wherever cameras are present? The City Watch on House Of The Dragon take a more direct eye-for-an-eye approach – a killer was executed, a thief had his hands cut off, and a rapist was left less, um, cocksure... It’s unlikely Mayor Khan was taking notes. Game Of Thrones made HBO more than £2.5billion from subscriptions alone, so there was more chance of seeing Jamie Oliver serve up a one-pot dire-wolf dopiaza than of bosses not milking the cash cow dry. This prequel, set 172 years before the birth of Queen Daenerys, comes with more fire-breathing dragons, more blood, familiar levels of lust and tragedy and, in a welcome new departure, jousting. It’s set in just one kingdom, King’s Landing – then home to the Targaryen clan – and so appears to be less complex and easier to follow. There’s weak King Viserys and his vicious, entitled younger brother Daemon – played by Matt “Doctor Who” Smith who gets up to things that’d make a Dalek shudder.
The spare to the heir is always a right royal nuisance. Obsessed with siring a son, Vis subjects his wife to one doomed pregnancy too many, losing her and their baby boy in the process. Nasty creep Daemon celebrates his nephew’s death, jokingly calling him “the heir for a day” (but failing to add “heir today, gone tomorrow”). It’s him who goes when word reaches the King though. Too late Vis realises his dragon-loving daughter Princess Rhaenyra would make a cracking successor. But he hasn’t yet sussed that if his daughter can rule, why can’t his aunt Rhaenys? Won’t her son think he has a sizeable claim to the kingdom too?
HBO have blown £169million on this series – a huge gamble, maybe, but the chance of them not recouping that outlay is miniscule. It’s a must-see for Game Of Thrones fans even if you just play Westeros bingo – dragons, yes, orgies, yes, rivalry and rotten wigs, yes, Ed Sheeran, maybe later. It might even make up for Thrones’ rushed, underwritten ending.
*THE only thing that can tear down The House of the Dragon is itself, we’re told. So like the Tory party only with more brutality and less backstabbing.
FRENCH cops were the voice of sanity on Investigating Diana: Death In Paris, picking apart the wild conspiracy theories C4 cheerfully regurgitated. That the detectives did so with the finest display of Gallic shrugs and gurns this side of ’Allo ’Allo!, added a smattering of gaiety to a depressing subject. Di wasn’t pregnant when she perished, the paparazzi didn’t push the police away from her mangled Merc and there is zero evidence to support the crackpot theory that Prince Philip ordered MI6 to cut the brake cables. Cops investigated 104 allegations. The likely truth – that Diana and Dodi died because their driver was drunk and they weren’t wearing seatbelts – seems too mundane for conspiracy theorists and telly chiefs to accept.
THE Clacton Railway Social Club on The Real Phoenix Nights was similar to the clubs my family dragged me to as a kid. Like Cheers, they were places where “everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came” – a bedrock of community in a fast-changing world. Bright young Kelly and her sister Emma worked so hard to keep the Essex club alive for dad John you couldn’t help but be impressed. Neither could you help noticing that the average age of the members was somewhere between Joe Biden and Methuselah. Why have clubs like them failed to hook the next generations? Maybe bingo has lost its appeal.
*PETER Kay’s Phoenix club booked entertainers too of course. I recently watched comic Buddy Lee light up Blackpool’s The Talk Of The Coast (in the Viking Hotel). His live variety bill included dancers and singers with better voices and more personality than half the acts on The Voice. Would it hurt BBC1to bring back seaside specials?
HOT on TV: Shelea and Cynthia Erivo, The Proms... House Of The Dragon... Susie Essman, Hacks (Prime).
ROT on TV: Big Breakfast – bad reboot... Joshua’s post-bout meltdown... Colin Murray, Countdown.
WHO should Anthony Joshua fight next? Deontay Wilder would be a proper bout, but maybe Piet Van Der Valk would make a decent opponent? On Sunday, Piet was knocked down by a car, and then viciously kicked, kneed and punched but was still back to work straight after the ad break. They breed cops tough in Amsterdam, but not particularly inquisitive. When girlfriend Lena told him she was marrying a previously unmentioned boyfriend, Piet didn’t even ask who he was.
*LIKED the look of that lamb joint on Jamie’s One-Pan Wonders, it looked like a two-pan filler to me. But how is it a one-pan meal if he cooks the meat on an oven shelf above it? And how many hours does it take his platoon of kids to wash up after him?
*WHO experienced the best “deep slot canyons” this month? Natalie Portman adventuring with Bear Grylls, or Prince Daemon at a House Of The Dragon orgy?
*DIDN’T like Hancock. No blood donors.
7 great TV sports docs: When We Were Kings. The Two Escobars. Hoop Dreams. Tyson. Sunderland Till I Die. Next Goal Wins. The Game Of Their Lives.
SMALL joys of TV: Max Wall: It’s Got To Be Funny (TPTV). Welcome To Wrexham (Disney+). Killer At The Crime Scene. Agatha Christie’s Hjerson (More4).
RANDOM Irritations: Top Of The Pops: Secrets & Scandals tip-toeing around the Savile-shaped elephant in the room. Boxing judges – Zhang was robbed.
TV Maths. Roy Wood minus hair dye = Hendrik Davie, Van Der Valk.
Classic clanger. Nigella Lawson was talking about making the dough to bake a cake when she said, “I usually start it by hand and I certainly finish it off by hand.”
Aug 21. WOODY Allen claimed his parents stayed together for forty years “out of spite”. The gruesome twosome in Marriage don’t even have that going for them. BBC1’s gloomy portrait of wedded bliss centred on Ian and Emma who got along like two peeves in a pod. God, it was tedious. Alfred Hitchcock said that drama was life without the dull parts. Stefan Golaszewski’s script delivered the opposite. “Highlights” included an escalating row about a jacket potato. There were silences and sideway glances, petty squabbles, Ian’s festering jealousy... Sean Bean and Nicola Walker worked hard to inject chemistry into a humdrum formula. But it only livened up when James Bolam was on screen as Emma’s mean-spirited, manipulative dad. Or when Adam, their adopted daughter’s git of an agent/boyfriend, was being obnoxious. Richard Sharpe would have sorted him out, but Ian was just borderline creepy, hanging about the receptionist at his gym like the stench of old sweat around an unwiped rowing machine.
You found yourself wishing it was on ITV just for the brief relief of the adverts. If marriage boils down to finding that one special person you want to irritate for the rest of your years, then George & Mildred did it much better. The show needed a Pinter to bring it alive. Or at least a couple of pints... We were asked to believe Marriage accurately reflects real life. If it reflects yours maybe now is the time to get a hobby, join a monastery or form a functioning government. Someone needs to.
*ODDS on this inspires a spate of equally dull commissions. Maybe a series mixing fly-on-the-wall footage with the DIY/lifestyle... 24 Hours In B&Q.
Or how about 24 Hours On An A&E Trolley? Eight three-hour episodes about a semi-conscious old age pensioner abandoned and ignored in a lonely corridor.
’ALLO! ’Allo! launched in 1982, ran for ten years and won audiences of 14million. Would it even be made now? The po-faced berks who police TV comedy would hate its broad humour and foreign accents, but writers Croft & Lloyd set out to amuse not offend. ’Allo! ’Allo!: 40 Years Of Laughter recalled great characters like Yvette Carte-Blanche, René Artois, and Mimi Labonq and the endless catchphrases. Contrary to resistance leader Michelle’s one, nothing was zed “only once”. The show sent up wartime drama Secret Army. It mocked the Nazis and treated us to the ongoing saga of the fallen Madonna with her formidable assets. Farce, slapstick and bawdiness sustained it for 85 episodes along with rhyming wordplay – the gateau in the chateau, the pill in the till... It wasn’t Galton & Simpson, but I licked it a lot.
ON Red Rose, Bolton school-leaver Rochelle was manipulated by a sinister phone app which, like a modern-day genie, granted her three wishes. Amused, she requested wealth, power and respect. Her wishes were granted but Roch paid an awful price when she defied the Red Rose app. Who’s behind it, though? Is a cyber-stalker or something more supernatural? Maybe the exasperated spirit of a French teacher horrified by Rochelle’s attitude to her final exam – she answered the last question by copying the ingredients from the label of her French mineral water bottle.
HOT on TV: She-Hulk (Disney+)... Isis Hainsworth, Red Rose (BBC3)... Chelsea v Spurs – gripped like Thomas Tuchel.
ROT on TV: Marriage – you’ll have seen happier funerals... Westworld – more convoluted than the UK tax code.
*HOT not on TV (or at Edinburgh): Jerry Sadowitz.
ALAN Carr’s Adventures With Agatha Christie told us nothing other Christie docs hadn’t covered more coherently. I was reminded of Christie’s novel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Simon Evans, Lee Evans, Rupert Evans, Fat Barry Evans... any of ’em would have made a better fist of it than Carr.
*WHICH show claimed that being familiar with the genitalia of employees was “a precondition of employment”? Was it a) Naked Attraction b) Porn King c) Van Der Valk? Answer: c, but all three are acceptable.
*SHE-Hulk doesn’t burst out of her clothes like the Hulk did. Shame, isn’t it?
*ON The Sandman, Stephen Fry plays “heaven for sailors” in human form. Anyone making cheap gags about that should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
THINGS TV taught us this week: Ron Jeremy was the fastest predator this side of the Serengeti, allegedly. Rock bands drank and did drugs (no!). The Afghan war was the military equivalent of smearing strawberry jam on your arse and squatting over a wasps’ nest.
*IF a ten second pause adds dramatic impact, how much better would EastEnders be after a ten-year one?
*IRMA Vep? – I’m-a out.
*WELL done Amol Rajan for bagging University Challenge. It’s so rare to see a Cambridge graduate do well. Here’s the field Amol beat: Joey Essex, Charlotte Crosby, Alison Hammond...
SMALL joys of TV: Sharpe re-runs. Ann Ogbomo & Gwendoline Christie, The Sandman. Running Wild with Bear Grylls. Trainwreck – Woodstock 99 (Netflix).
RANDOM Irritations: The pox of joke censors. Frankie Boyle’s giggle. Alan Carr’s struggles with English. The Marriage theme tune. Shetland – it’s shit, man.
Historical TV Maths. Mark Twain + scruffy hat = Jed Clampett, The Beverly Hillbillies
7 great TV superhero shows: Daredevil. The Boys. The Punisher. The Umbrella Academy. Gotham. WandaVision. The Incredible Hulk.
Aug 15. EVEN hardcore murder mystery addicts must be bored witless by ITV’s endless barrage of two-hour detective shows. They’re such dull slogs most make the Tory leadership clashes seem like Frost/Nixon. But at least Van Der Valk is educational. Who knew young, fit Dutch women were so turned on by surly 50-something blokes in leather jackets? Piet, our glum plod hero, only has to turn up to turn heads. In one bar, he had three beauties after him. Sensibly he blew out the two youngsters, who looked like they’d come with a price tag, to enjoy a thorough check-up with wholesome older nurse Lena.
Amsterdam’s symbol is “XXX” – and not because so many of the clubs are triple X-rated either. The script claimed they represent the three old dangers facing the city – flood, fire and black death (an urban myth, but go with it). The fiendish serial killer carved them on the corpses of his victims, whose unusual murders were theatrically staged to mirror the dangers. Because he wanted to be caught, he also left cryptic riddles in or around their bodies. Hmm. The killer, the hippy son of displaced fairground owners, linked his crimes to peace-loving 17th Century Dutch philosopher Spinoza. It was all a convoluted protest against corporate greed, I think – I’d nodded off by the end.
The highpoint was the local paper calling him the “Golden Buzzer Killer” because his suicide vest triggered a Britain’s Got Talent-style cascade of yellow ticker-tape. You’d hope it doesn’t encourage one of our racier TV channels to commission Britain’s Got Psychos. They’ve done worse. The biggest crime was ITV ruining the classic Van Der Valk theme tune, Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra.
*DON’T get nostalgic for the original VDV though. Barry Foster’s Piet was never much cop. Billed as an “astute observer” he failed to spot that his wife Arlette’s head changed three times over four series...
THE Fringe, Fame & Me was as welcome as Ryan Giggs rocking up on First Dates. Did we really wreck TV comedy to make this shower of smug, mostly middle-class gits famous? There were over-promoted lightweights, pretentious twerps, Eddie Izzard in a skirt, and Nish Kumar who proves box-ticking still trumps talent. I used to love Alexei Sayle’s raw rage. In the 80s, it felt blisteringly fresh. But most comics swear now, which is why there’s little comedy on before the watershed. You couldn’t imagine Hylda Baker saying “shit” on telly even if she was having one. The Pol Pot year zero approach to TV comedy that Alexei and co inspired deprived us of a whole generation of kinder, more accessible, working-class comics.
*SAYLE hated Bernard Manning’s material, but is Frankie Boyle with his vile jibes at disabled kids and Rebecca Adlington’s looks what he wanted to replace it? I’d rather watch Russ Abbot’s Madhouse.
TODAY’S cops seem happier banging up veterans for thoughtcrimes than the trivial business of investigating burglaries. The soft Brighton-based woodentops on Night Coppers spend their time dealing affably with mobs of drunks and blokes with “eyes like flying saucers” who claim not to have had a sniff of illicit chemicals, honest guv. “The area we are in is well-known for drug-dealing” said one officer, although the thought of cracking down on it more vigorously escaped his gaffers who favour “awareness courses”. I felt for the hardworking cab driver whose pie-eyed passenger chundered in his cab. A cop asked him to reduce the £100 fouling fee because the drunk couldn’t afford it (well, he’d blown all his dough on booze). It wasn’t just the cost of cleaning the car, though; it was also the loss of fares. It ended with the rozzer advising the drunk to pay “in instalments”. Yeah, thanks for nothing.
HOT on TV: Jenna Coleman, The Sandman (Netflix)... Eilish McColgan, Commonwealth Games.
ROT on TV: The Fringe, Fame & Me – despicable smug-fest... Changing Rooms – changing channels...
PAUL Chuckle is on Celebrity MasterChef, yet nobody thought to tell him, “From you to brie.” A shocking oversight. We got the usual unknown “celebs” and contestants who’d need instructions to boil an egg. Two of them cooked coleslaw! Faye Winter was so stressed her trout-pout lips had deflated. Prepping a seabream, she quipped “That looks like me last year.”
*OLD slogans, new meanings: “I see dead people” = I’m watching Talking Pictures TV. “Winter is coming” = the MasterChef wrap party is more fun than the series.
SECRETS Of The Spies recalled traitor Kim Philby, the double-agent who turned duplicity into an artform. Cambridge-educated Communist toff Philby so hated Britain that he passed Allied secrets to Moscow for decades. These days he’d be running the Beeb.
*WHAT a week. It was so hot the only way to cool down was to watch Shetland on a loop. That place looks bleaker than the world economy.
*THAT Strictly line-up surprised me. Who knew they were doing a non-celebrity version this year?
*HOW runaway inflation changes TV: ITV+1 is now ITV+4. 2 Broke Girls have gone bust. A 69 is now a 96. And on EastEnders, cash-strapped Whit considers going back on the game just to get something warm inside her.
SMALL joys of TV: Ozzy and The Selecter at the Commonwealth Games. Loes Haverkort, Van Der Valk. Wild Ways Of The Vikings. Frank Sinatra: The Voice of America.
RANDOM Irritations: Second-rate Code 404 scripts squandering the acting talent. Tom Daley’s shallow and illogical Illegal To Be Me. The iPlayer app.
TV maths. Sting + smack addiction = Piet Van Der Valk.
7 Hottest Cartoon Women. Betty Rubble. Lurleen Lumpkin. Jessica Rabbit. Catwoman. Josie McCoy. Poison Ivy. Stripperella.
Classic clanger. David Corkill commenting on indoor bowls: “David Gourlay’s pushed it too much, if you look at where our rings are red.”
Aug 7. ANYONE avoiding sport last weekend could have stumbled on an oasis of laughter. There were Tommy Cooper and The Two Ronnies clip shows recalling a golden era when comedy was king. And, as The Fight For Saturday Night showed, entertainment was a serious business. The BBC4 doc was heaven for anyone who grew up watching Noel Edmonds and threw up watching Naked Attraction. Michael Grade made the decades-long ratings battle between BBC1 and ITV seem chummy. It wasn’t. The bitter grudge match made Rooney and Varley seem like a sitcom tiff. Stars and formats were poached, men in wigs got involved (lawyers, not drag acts). There were dramas, axings, dirty tricks, even a tragic death.
Bad decisions abounded – Bruce Forsyth leaving The Generation Game to flop on ITV, LWT’s short-lived flirtation with highbrow arts... ITV found their mojo with Game For A Laugh though, sinking Larry Grayson’s Gen Game revival. Then it was Blobby and Big Break vs Blind Date, Barrymore and Beadle’s About, followed by the Strictly vs Simon Cowell era – all more rewarding than Alan Carr crashing through old gameshows. BBC1 lost Ant & Dec, turned down Cowell and commissioned forgettable flops hosted by Barrowman, Balding and Gabby Logan. Decent recent hits are few and far between – Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, Lee Mack’s The 1% Club. Saturday Night Take Away – Noel’s House Party rebooted – survived scandals but lost its fizz. Paddy McGuinness’s Take Me Out seemed less a dating show and more a challenge for snipers. How would old-school bosses resuscitate TV entertainment? The ghost of Lew Grade, Michael’s uncle, would probably prescribe fast-paced modern variety formats and sketch shows, and formats for blue-collar comics. He’d surely resurrect An Audience With for popular comedians and singers with no auto-tuning requirements (Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins). The old guard knew what really put bums on seats – talent.
WHAT a final! 56years and one day after Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick, the Lionesses lifted another trophy for England. BBC’s Robyn Cowen called them “dream makers, record breakers, game changers”. Correct. The tough match had more highs than the Germans had bad buns – Ella Toone’s cracker, Chloe Kelly’s scrappy clincher, her sports bra glory, Mary Earps dancing on the press conference table... did the ceiling follow? You felt these women could do anything. They broke the curse of extra time and triumphed through dogged determination. There were no amateur dramatics, no gamesmanship, and no one went down in the box for the wrong reason – on camera at least.
*CASH in, ITV, repeat Playing The Field.
TO nobody’s surprise, Love Island was won by two people the producers had handpicked – Ekin-Su, their Effin’ Shoe-In, and Dishy Davide. Some accuse ITV of giving them preferential treatment – while other couples got flamenco dancers or a boat ride, they were serenaded by singing superstar Alfie Boe...Hmm. Sure, there were funny moments, like Italian stallion Davide calling the hot Turkish actress “as fake as Louis Vuitton from China”. And educational ones – like novel sex position, the broken eagle (first turn the Paige...) But the series will chiefly be remembered for the cringeworthy “tit-gate”, along with walk-outs, betrayals, cries of “liyaaah”, and idiot kids becoming hate figures... It’s a living soap, with real people, who sometimes paying a shocking price. Even worse they’ll be popping up on feeble “reality” shows for years.
HOT on TV: Emily Campbell and her golden snatch... Kim Johnson-Thompson... The Newsreader.
ROT on TV: Irma Vep – drama misstep... The Undeclared War – Love Island is closer to reality.
ON Two Doors Down, Christine wasn’t impressed by Cathy and Colin serving Italian snacks because they’d just come back from bella Sorrento. “So what?” she snapped. “I’ve been to Blackpool but I didn’t start serving up ****ing candyfloss to folk... ” “It’s put me in mind of booking something,” said diplomatic Beth. “Aye,” said Cathy. “A taxi.”
*LOVE Island has Unseen Bits. Imagine a Naked Attraction version. It’d just be a series of chest x-rays and gall bladder scans.
*DARA will find work after Mock The Week. There’s always room for another amusing, weirdly-shaped hairless plonker on Naked Attraction.
*REBEKAH Vardy says she may be suffering from PTSD. Post-Truth Syndrome or post-traumatic suing disaster?
*IRMA Vep is a remake of a film about making a remake of a vampire movie. TV twerps call it “meta”, which means its head couldn’t be rammed further up its own arse without the aid of a bucket of axle grease.
*IF you were watching Susan Calman’s Grand Week, that strange background din was just Alan Whicker spinning in his tin.
*ALFIE Moon is returning to DeadEnders – hope they find him a shirt that fits. Where’s Big Mo though? Maybe Mo’s a hobo, or working in Soho as a Boho go-go? Oh no, say it ain’t so, Mo.
SMALL joys of TV: The Offer, and City On A Hill (both Paramount+). The Sandman (Netflix). Chris “Kammy” Kamara. Laura Osma, Blocco 181. Prey (Disney+).
RANDOM Irritations: Talking heads repeating or explaining jokes that need no explanation on Les Dawson: 30 Funniest Moments (ditto Tommy Cooper).
TV Maths. Keith Lemon + beard = The Dane, The Lazarus Project
In honour of Nichelle Nichols, RIP, here are 7 memorable sci-fi women: Nyota Uhura (Star Trek). 7 of 9 (Voyager). Virginia Lake (UFO). Number 6 (BSG). Deana Troi (Star Trek TNG). Zev Bellringer (Lexx). Anna (V).